Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Complete anus completes annus horribilis

You know those posters some people put up in the office - 'You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!' - that sort of faux-cheery, cod rubbish that never made anybody even smile, still less laugh? Well, years ago, when I was just an acne-covered 17-year-old cleaning the offices of American Express in the evening for beer money, I saw one of those on somebody's desk-space wall which has stuck with me. I don't know why - it was no more or less profound than any of the others.

"And a great voice boomed from the heavens, and it said 'Don't despair - smile and be happy, for things could be worse.' So I smiled and was happy. And, lo, things got worse."

That's what it said. Now it may have chimed with my innate pessimism. I may have retained it because, like many teenaged boys, I fancied myself a cynic at the time. I don't know. But for pretty obvious reasons it came back to me this morning, as the news broke from the States.

This has been, by both personal and wider measures, an absolutely fucking shit year. My father's death, our own referendum, the refugee crises, war in Syria, terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, the rise of the extreme right across Europe and beyond, beloved and influential people like Bowie dropping like flies - I could go on. I was, though, naive enough to hope, still, that Clinton would become the first female President of the US. Female heads of State in both Britain and the UK - even if you don't agree with their politics, even if you accept they're both a long way from perfect, that would have been something, wouldn't it? Some signs for hope, particularly in the States, that a black man could be followed into the White House by a woman.

Well no, obviously. 2016 has decided, in its apparently infinite capacity to bring forth shit, that it hasn't done with us yet. It has, finally, squeezed any last vestige of optimism from me, and left me, like so many others, in despair. I still have nothing but the highest regard for those who won't let it defeat their spirit, of course. I may not be much of a Facebook user, but I see the defiance in people I love and admire, the determination to do good, to be good people. The will not to allow Trump et al to drag them down to his hell of fear, hatred, retrenchment and isolationism. But I've got to tell you, just at the moment, I'm not feeling that. I feel beaten. Hate is winning, everywhere.

We're being told that millions of ordinary Americans felt let down, disenfranchised by a political elite they regarded as corrupted, morally bankrupt and completely out of touch with how they felt. Well I know how they fucking feel! In an America with a right-wing nutcase President-elect, a Republican Senate, a Republican House of Representatives and a Republican Chief Justice, where the hell is the voice of the Democrat, the liberal, the minority, being heard, still less represented? Don't those millions, equally appalled at the state of their nation today, also count?

On this side of the Atlantic, at least, there seems to be a sort of bewilderment that 'it' could have happened again. That a country that can elect Obama, twice, can then put almost his direct antithesis into the same seat. What happened to the America that elected him? How have people that called him a terrorist, a communist, and a Muslim, the last being intended as an insult, have had their way, when this most human of Presidents, this classiest of men, seemed only ever to want the best for his country?

The US seems to have forgotten which way round parody
is supposed to work. The Simpsons, 16 years ago. 

I wrote an entry last July about not letting this sort of thinking - this sociopathic, atavistic, solipsistic ideology that's becoming so prevalent - win. Reading it back now makes me feel like I was Cnut, sitting on the beach, watching the tide advance inexorably but still trusting to the future. He, at least, was able to leave the beach when it was clear he'd been right - there was no stopping it. The rest of us have no such luxury, and we're already in it up to our chests.

Never mind - smile and be happy, for things could be worse.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The 1950s called. They want their vocabulary back.

You know that stuff I was saying in my last entry about everything feeling like it's lurching to the right, politically? I should, of course, have said that some pretty fundamental things have always been right wing. Before the EDL there was the National Front, before them the blackshirts, for example. The tide of xenophobia that the Brexit vote has uncorked mirrors the abuse suffered by black people who came to Britain after World War II, or the anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century.

So I'm not claiming to be surprised by some new phenomenon. My main problem with things currently is the fact that so much of what sounds, to me, like extremist thinking has become mainstream, or at least unremarkable. Now I apologise for linking to the Daily Mail in this blog - more on them in a moment - but some of the comments made by readers of this article are genuinely appalling; shocking examples of what I'm talking about. Bad enough that the headline itself somehow suggests that Neo-Nazi thugs attacking immigrants is somehow Angela Merkel's fault. (And there's that phrase again - 'gains by the right-wing populist AfD party'.) The comments below are far, far worse. Any quick read through them exposes the same sort of thinking that has been exemplified by the abuse meted out to Polish people and Muslims in this country lately.

I wouldn't normally link to the Mail here on general bloody principle - it is possibly the most pernicious and regrettably influential exemplum of this political cancer that I can think of. It both amazes and appals me that this is one of the most-read websites in the world. I know a large number of people who read it for a laugh, who share none of its political sentiment. Reading it ironically, if you like. But their hits are still counted. They still help raise advertising revenue and perpetuate this thing.

Take a look at the 'sidebar of shame' down the right. This is a Mail staple, the subject of a type of bingo played by my workmates who look for certain phrases that they repeat in that sidebar - 'pixie-thin legs', 'pours her curves', 'slinky', 'revealing' etc. They cheerfully run this thing alongside articles screaming about 'Paedo filth', 'sex pests' and the like, without any apparent sense of irony or shame. This archaic content and tone informs and feeds back into the thinking of those same readers who left the comments on the main article, excusing the right-wing attackers on the grounds that, in the words of two separate commentators, they were 'protecting their womenfolk'.

Those poor, helpless, bikini-clad waifs, powerless before the rising tide of immigrants with nothing but a few brave Nazis (or 'concerned citizens' according to the comments) to defend them - is this how the Mail sees our future? Well that word 'womenfolk' typifies Mail-reader thinking, and most certainly belongs to the past. A graph tracking its use in English looks like this:

(Google's graph)
Anyway. This got me thinking about the portrayal of women in the media generally. It's a well-trodden path, I know, but worthy of comment here. The sidebar of shame is merely the most shameless of its type and I can't of course begin to understand the pressures women feel when they see how they're represented all over western media. But I do sometimes wonder if even outlets which purport to speak to them aren't complicit in undermining them at the same time. Glamour magazine today named Bono on its Women of the Year list, on the grounds that he does admirable work for the feminist cause. You read that correctly - Bono among the Women of the Year. Was it really beyond their wit to commend him some other way? And to quote one female response to the award, "To be fair, with only 3.7 billion women it must be tough to find a worthy one."

Some of Glamour's readers, appropriately
enough not all of them women, are not happy.
So - neo-Nazi thuggery and the archaic vocabulary of its British apologists, the sidebar of shame and Glamour magazine mistaking Bono for a woman. A depressing enough snapshot of a single day in the modern media landscape and Trump's not even President yet.